SXSW Interview: Walter Yetnikoff

Ballroom Dancing: Music Panels

SXSW Live Shots
Photo By Gary Miller

SXSW Interview: Walter Yetnikoff

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 19 As head of CBS Records from 1975 to 1990, Walter Yetnikoff amassed an amazingly lucrative talent roster led by Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel. He also did lots of drugs, chased lots of skirts, and made lots of enemies with his classically cantankerous demeanor. As a law firm refugee brought to Columbia Records by Clive Davis in 1962, Yetnikoff used his clinical understanding of the artistic mind to bully artists into submission. "I was in awe of the artist's ability to create what I couldn't, but I also had knowledge that the artistic temperament is very fragile," he related. Raised by perfectionist parents in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood, Yetnikoff now says his business aggression was motivated by an underlying desire to beat up his abusive father. This is not the guy an artist would relish taking to war. Paul Simon did just that, and Yetnikoff said he dismissed the diminutive tunesmith by saying, "Look, guys like you used to work for chickens 100 years ago." He was no less subtle in doing battle with rival Warner Bros. Records, rallying CBS shock troops with the Bugs-bashing battle cry, "Fuck the bunny!" However, as a defanged elder industry statesman, Yetnikoff's wry, bean-spilling loquacity was downright charming. Interviewer David Ritz, who co-authored Yetnikoff's new autobiography, Howling at the Moon, drew stories out of his subject in a manner that made you want to buy the book, which may now be made into a movie. "I'm not sure who's going to play me," Yetnikoff quipped, "but I have my heart set on Robert Mitchum, so there's a slight problem."

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Wednesday Interview
Wednesday Interview
Delta Spirit

Jim Caligiuri, March 20, 2015

Wednesday Picks & Sleepers
Wednesday Picks & Sleepers
First night SXSW Music recommendations and hints

March 20, 2015

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Gary Clark Jr.
This Land (Record Review)

Kahron Spearman, March 22, 2019

Texas Platters
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord
Harder On the Outside (Record Review)

Michael Toland, March 22, 2019

More by Greg Beets
Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
80 local picks from Molly Burch to Brownout

Dec. 28, 2018

Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
80 local picks from Molly Burch to Brownout

Dec. 28, 2018

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle